Tree of Life

The assignment of doing a Family Tree has long been used in Addictions to determine various addictions, codependency and family traits of the addict. You know, Hero child, mascot, scapegoat, codependent, comedian, plumber, parentified child. I made up the plumber role, but in my house that was an important skill to have. My father was a plumber and often left at least 1 part of the job undone or incomplete.

As it turns out a Family Tree is incredibly important to understand the width and breadth of Intergenerational trauma, as well.

In a study done by (Blanco, Levine & Kline, 2007) they were able to “trace a 5 generation account of the effects of violence on subsequent generations in South America that can be mapped onto the history of Indigenous Australia.” As I present their findings I think you will be able to see how this can be extrapolated to Native Americans and Indigenous people every where; with Aparteid and Slavery in the US. Also given any historical trauma how we could extrapolate behaviors, i.e. Consider the possibilities with children of the Depression and generations of soldiers and their families, sexual abuse survivors over the generations.

  • 1st Generation: “Conquered males were killed, imprisoned, enslaved or in some way deprived of their ability to care for their families.”
  • 2nd Generation: “Many men overused alcohol and/or drugs with resultant loss of cultural identity. Various cultures dealt with this issue in different ways;incarceration, confined to the reservation but in every case  solutions/treatment was not provided.”
  • 3rd Generation: “Increase in spousal abuse, domestic violence, the breakdown of the family unit.”
  • 4th Generation: “Trauma begins to be re enacted and directed at the spouse and child; signifying a serious challenge to the family unit and societal norms.”
  • 5th Generation: “In this generation, the cycle of violence is repeated and compounded, as trauma begets violence through increasingly severe violence and increasing societal distress.”

So let’s look at other Family trees…my father grew up during the depression, extremely poor, often without food in a family of 12 children, only 6 lived to adult hood.

My father in law grew up during the depression as well, the only child of a single Momma, an immigrant from Italy.

The difference In the “Money Messages” and behaviors were very, very different. My father in law had an extremely intense work ethic, saved everything. In the basement were #10 vegetable cans filled with buttons, nails, screws, safety pins, aluminum foil; He saved everything…just in case. He and my mother in law had life and health insurance on everyone, just in case there was another financial disaster.

My father’s attitude was different in that he had a strong work ethic, but sometimes just “took off”… Just in case! It was very difficult for him to have a boss. He almost always worked for himself. He was a plumber. When he would have big payday he would celebrate and spend  frivolously on the family…just in case there would be another financial disaster. Our financial life was very insecure…very good or very bad never “just right”.

I was the oldest child and had enormous shame about our poverty, I hated being dependent on anyone. I worked from the time I was 11; the first in my family to go to college; all of my children have graduated from college and are professionals. I am a “Dreamer” and I dream big.  I have been very Blessed that our Inter-generational trauma, including addiction, has been intervened on.

My in laws were always secretly secure, protecting the family but always “crying poor” as my mother in law used to tell me; that’s family business.

The issues are NEVER about money; they are about fear, insecurity, shame and guilt, grief and loss and low self-esteem.

If I can offer some wisdom that I have discovered working with families…telling the story, answering questions, describing family history is so valuable to healing. In the beginning it may be unsettling, may create angst and fear, however, there is incredible enlightenment when puzzle pieces fall into place.

I worked with a family, the son an alcoholic who had been sexually abused by a neighbor, and his sister had as well. This young man relapsed several times…everyone in the family worked with a therapist and attended every family week. I worked with them at least 30 hours as a family. We were at the last session, the last 15 minutes and Mom turned to us and said, “I need to tell 1 more secret. I was molested by my father, your grandfather.” Gasps all around the room. Mom continued, and said, ” my brother, your Uncle was also molested and I used to protect him by putting myself in front of him. This continued for 5 years.”

The family was astounded, Dad exploded, “that explains our intimacy issues after 40 years.” The daughters shared, ” that explains why our Uncle has emotional problems.” And our client described the quiet shameful sexual energy that overwhelmed him when his sexual abuse happened and how big the secret became.

So I hope we can help our families to  heal these wounds and stop the Intergenerational trauma one generation at a time. One secret at a time, creating a Family Tree that shelters and embraces the Family.